A city committee in San Francisco has drafted a proposal for the most extensive reparations package for African Americans in U.S. history. (Fibonacci Blue via Wikimedia Commons)
A city committee in San Francisco has drafted a proposal for the most extensive reparations package for African Americans in U.S. history. (Fibonacci Blue via Wikimedia Commons)

Each Black inhabitant of San Francisco, including those arrested during the racist war on drugs, should receive a one-time, lump-sum payment of $5 million from the African American Reparations Advisory Committee.

Assuming the city council approves the proposal, it would be the largest payment of reparations in American history.

In a draft proposal for reparations released this week, members of the San Francisco African American Reparations Advisory Committee noted, “We have ultimately established that the repercussions of numerous programmatic and policy actions by San Francisco’s administration have been generational and overlapping.”

Committee members asserted that the most prominent period that illustrates how the city and county of San Francisco as an institution contributed to the depletion of Black wealth and the forced relocation of its Black inhabitants was the period of urban renewal.

Further, the committee concluded that “public and private entities facilitated and coddled the conditions that created near-exclusive Black communities within the city, limited political participation and representation, disinvested from academic and cultural institutions, and intentionally displaced Black communities from San Francisco through targeted, sometimes violent actions” 

San Francisco’s African American population grew rapidly between 1940 and 1963.

To address what the San Francisco Chronicle calls “a national racial reckoning,” the Board of Supervisors established the AARAC committee in December 2020.

The committee’s investigation determined that segregation, structural oppression, and racial prejudice developed from the institution of slavery had a tremendous impact on the development of the city, even though California was never formally a slave state.

Throughout the 20th century, the Chronicle reported, “San Francisco was a Ku Klux Klan stronghold, prohibited Black people from residing in particular districts, kept them out of city employment, and bulldozed the Fillmore,” a historically Black neighborhood and commercial center.

AARAC Chair Eric McDonnell told the newspaper, “Centuries of devastation and destruction of Black lives, Black bodies, and Black communities should be met with centuries of restoration.”

This committee’s actions are consistent with those of other jurisdictions, where similar bodies have advocated for reparations for African Americans.

Residents must have self-identified as Black or African American on public documents for a minimum of 10 years and be at least 18 years old when the committee’s plan is approved to receive the compensation.

Additionally, individuals may be required to show that they were born in San Francisco between 1940 and 1996, have been residents of the city for at least 13 years, and are either a former inmate themselves or a direct descendant of a former inmate who served time during the war on drugs.

The Chronicle said that “to put that in context,” the state reparations task panel believes Black Californians may be awarded $569 billion for housing discrimination alone between 1933 and 1977.

Evanston, Illinois, voted to pay $400,000 to select African Americans as part of the city’s vow to spend $10 million over a decade on reparations payments shortly after the San Francisco committee was founded.

The government of St. Paul, Minnesota, has apologized for its role in institutional and structural racism and formed a committee to investigate reparations.

A report detailing the committee’s proposed financial compensation for African Americans was subsequently made public.

A reparations task committee was established by the state of California last year, and its report from that year detailed the incalculable harm that slavery had caused to African Americans.

After George Floyd was murdered, the District of Columbia City Council announced it would create a task team to investigate compensation. 

Legislators in both Maryland and Virginia have expressed an interest in researching reparations.

Meanwhile, there has been no movement on a federal level on a bill by Texas Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to establish a committee to investigate reparations.

The San Francisco committee recommended that low-income African Americans get an annual payment equivalent to the region median for at least 250 years, on top of the $5 million payout.

As an added measure, the city would establish a public bank framework and provide citizens with extensive financial education to ensure that those without bank accounts have access to equal opportunities, including increased access to credit, loans, financing, and other means of managing their money.

The committee also seeks to pay for a broad debt cancellation plan that wipes out all types of debt including student loans, personal loans, credit card debt, and payday loans.

“Given the history of financial institutions preying on underbanked communities — and especially given the vulnerability of subsets of this population such as seniors and youth — this body recommends putting legal parameters and structures in place to ensure access to funds and to mitigate speculative harm done by others,” the committee concluded.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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